Hats off to Hathiram

Kudos to Amazon Prime, Clean Slate filmz, and Casting Bay for treating us with one of the most enduring characters on any screen - Inspector Hathiram Choudhary of Outer Jamnaa Paar Police Station. All adjectives fall short of describing the magic actor Jaideep Ahlawat creates, along with Ishwak Singh (as Chaudhary's UPSC-aspirant deputy Imran Ansari) and Abhishek Banerjee (as the stoic, spiritual gangster Hatoda Tyagi) in the Amazon web series Paatal Lok.

Media reviews have predictably focused elsewhere - similarities with David Fincher's crime thriller SE7EN, Neeraj Kabi's portrayal as the marked journalist (he is good, but way short of the Ahlawat benchmark), or the beauty of Sudip Sharma's pen (he is truly outstanding, but there are flaws hard to ignore: the pet, pseudo-secular effort to inorganically underline the 'Muslim' case, needless Bachchan-like escapades of Hathiram, and the staple Hindi belt ganglord-centric folklore that we have already seen in Ishqiya and Omkara. However, Sharma's religious motifs and the central metaphor of the dog are undoubtedly a masterstroke, simply beyond words!)

Ahlawat lends rock-solid credibility to Hathiram's exploits including the roundhouse punches and impossible jumps that the writer has thrust upon him. His acting is astonishingly devoid of any mannerisms whatsoever - defining or otherwise...no dramatic pauses, sighs, or gestures to emphasize a point (and there are many he puts forth throughout the series)

You simply don't detect any 'effort' in his enactment: whether shouting earthy expletives in a rustic Hariyanvi twang, savoring a dutiful late night dinner in solitude, catching up on lost sleep in state transport buses, ill at ease amid the English-speaking elite tribe, religiously jotting down notes in his 'ancient' diary, trying his best to play a doting father and miserably failing at that, or providing a pithy fag-end summary for the viewer's benefit in a one of a kind narration.We are not going to forget his words for a long time to come: "Sanjeev Mehra target hai hi nahi Ansari, target to yeh chaar hai"

Hope we see more of Ahlawat in the time to come. If and when he makes it big, hope he doesn't lose his way like the hugely talented but now hopelessly derailed Nawazzudin Siddiqui. And Abhishek Banerjee of Casting Bay, we can't thank you enough for helping Ahlawat land his dream role in his forties. May your tribe grow!

When the Reel and the Real converge...almost

Wish the similarities of this 2011 movie plot to the Covid-19 real-life horror were in toto; wish we had a wonder doc like the film's CDC scientist Ally Hextall who bravely turns guinea pig to test a live strain and develops a miracle vaccine that moves into mass production in record time. We wouldn't have had any quarrel with this bit of fantasy in an otherwise authentic film that adequately respects science unlike most outlandish Hollywood productions of this genre. 

The film features Kate Winslet and Matt Damon in pleasantly unusual support roles that strike immediate resonance. Winslet looks every inch an epidemiologist while Damon plays the everyday man with aplomb. Wish we had his invincible immunity in our arsenal; it could have worked wonders in the slum pockets of Dharavi in particular. 

Sadly, the reigning Covid-19 havoc denies the viewer the luxury of applauding the sincere effort of the writer-director duo Scott Burns and Steven Soderbergh which almost reads like the tragic tale of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An infected bat, fleeing a palm tree forest marked for destruction, accidentally drops a banana. A pig devours it before embarking on its final journey to the slaughter-house. A zoonotic spillover ensues when an unsuspecting casino chef works on the animal in his kitchen before shaking hands with a lady guest, who then becomes the ill-fated 'index patient'. The virus spreads thick and fast, courtesy scores of 'handshaking' carriers and 'friendly' surfaces worldwide. When infections touch alarming levels, quarantines follow. Authorities across the globe struggle to find a way out amid mayhem, riots, fake news, and false curative claims.
The Reproductive number (R naught) and mortality rate of the film's virus are higher than that of Covid-19. We could draw some solace on this front! Hope all the theory of recombinant DNA techniques and primate adenovirus vectors, long list of potential drugs, antibodies and plasma therapies and the like bear fruit very soon. For the moment, we pray that the epidemiologist Ian Lipkin, the film's medical consultant who happened to test Covid positive, is on his way to recovery.  

Wistful Dahanukar Diaries

These are the dark, dreary Covid-19 times of the year 2020 calling for a spate of draconian measures in quick succession. Even as we keenly await curative breakthroughs en route various anti-Covid pathways - antivirals, immune system boosters, plasma therapies, buffy coat yield, interferon gamma, cytokines et al, off the shelf alternatives, and alternative and traditional medicine - it is not easy to keep calm and maintain composure. Although I have been in 24 by 7 online business mode since ages, and even my two-penny volunteering necessarily happens remotely, life does appear upside down at the moment.

For some elusive reason, the mind has turned more inward than usual and looking back on the years gone by has assumed a fresh, new introspective character. I take this opportunity to remember the golden moments spent with a handful of mates who were an integral part of my life throughout the five years of college.

It's sheer coincidence that I start my tribute with a couple of Tam Brams or that the first three friends were inhabitants of the same residential colony, a huge suburban expanse developed by a reputed auto major (of tractor and jeep fame) for staff members.

1. Vidya Srinivasan:
My all-time absolute favourite; she was a rare gem, mature beyond her years, delightfully enigmatic, excellent listener, caring and compassionate, and radiant and beautiful in her own unique way. Every moment spent with her has been for keeps. The best thing about her was her equanimity and no-nonsense approach to life and work. She was academically brilliant unlike me, but she was equally alive to the seemingly trivial aspects and little pleasures of life, just like me. I sorely miss her even today and wish her loads of health, wealth and prosperity. My social networking sanyas makes it impossible to trace her online, but knowing her, I doubt she would be active on the Facebooks, Instas and Twitters of the world. I presume she still prefers her staple dignified solitude. Needless to say, her prosaic autograph in cursive handwriting, spanning several pages of my memory book, is a cherished treasure: an FD and RD rolled into one and gloriously devoid of attractive interest rates or alluring tax rebates.

2. Srinivasan G:       
Chini, as we called him, was well known for his inimitable bravado and devil may care attitude. Never the one to shy away from probing every 'taboo' topic, his appetite for murky adventure was insatiable. Cosmopolitan to a tee, his secular ways and broad outlook always kept him in good stead. A great conversationalist, my time was truly well spent in his company. We often went on crazy escapades after college hours - Malabar Hill, Bombay Central, Tardeo, Heera Panna, Dadar, Shivaji Park - without rhyme or reason - talking about everything under the sun, moon and stars. I bet he will still remember the SETA syndrome (Sudden Exposure to Aristocracy) we sensed going up and down Malabar Hill. The other day, I passed through the Vile Parle samosa snack joint 'Saurashtra' and I almost heard him say 'khilavtos kay' (care to buy me a samosa plate?) in his defining mischievous tone. Had he checked his inherent tendency to be mean and menacing, I reckon many more would have found in him a friend for life. Nevertheless, I have scores of fond memories of our interaction. And his bagful of tales - 'Dildar' Uncle, 'MMS' super granny, his dad's faux pas at Madam Tussauds, London - are now part of a sanctified folklore.  

3. Harish:
90 percent of my college time was spent alongside his towering frame of six feet. Our idea of fun and frolics may seem childish to many but we cared a damn anyway! A wonderful mate in many ways, he was a compulsive party-n-picnic animal. A confirmed castiest, his pet lines were invariably centered around parochial issues, rooted in passing snide remarks about social strata, sects, creed, religion and language but playing it safe on the fence during critical times callling for litmus test interventions. And he was a self-appointed authority on all topics alien to him. Classical music, spirituality, mythology, economics, sociology, psychology or medicine, his punctured pearls of wisdom were invariably in ready to deploy mode for the benefit of humanity. Yet, I cherish every good memory linked with his association to this day, and I sorely miss the jaggery cakes of his native place, as also our countless beer sessions in umpteen dens: whether Prakash and Jai Prakash in Goregaon, Amrit in Vashi, Vishwasmahal in Dadar, Foodland in Malad, or Samrat in Borivali.

4. Manoj:
For me, if there was a home straight out R K Narayan's Malgudi days, it was "Kalapi" - the Borivali residence of Manoj and his endearing parents. I can never forget the seamless fun sessions at his place and his home walls decorated with his dad's true-to-life charcoal sketches. Manoj was the ideal friend to have, cheerful and non-interfering, and always ready for harmless adventure. Now a quintessential  'Middle East' professional, I don't sense his innate warmth anymore but I continue to miss the contagious simplicity of his parents. His pencil sketch of Vidya is still in my memory, picture perfect that it was. I always thought Manoj was immutable like the Clojure functional language but how wrong I was. I always took the pithy Sholay dialogue at face value: sikke aur insaan mein shayad yehi farq hai. But now I know better: programming language aur insaan mein shayad yehi farq hai.

5. Vinayak:
The perfect gentleman among us, his mild manners and studious ways ought to have inspired the rest of us towards some positive action but sadly didn't. A loner at heart, he could unwind himself only if and when he felt at home in the given company. And he simply loved casual conversations. Precisely why I remember most of the anecdotes he shared with me en route our suburban train journeys, like the ST mishap in which a travel trunk fell on his co-passenger's jawline, or his frantic search for salt in a Gujarat township where locals knew the essential mineral only as 'mithu', not namak or meeth. Of course, these hard-coded recollections have equally to do with an inborn programing error that I am fatally inflicted with - an ever-burgeoning database bursting with a truckload of trivial memories. Vinayak is today a top-notch VC guy, bereft of his old ways. He probably thinks when people decide to look back or cite old memories, they either lack maturity or mask an hidden agenda of seeking plum favors from a 'happening' pro at a later date. So unless you 'pivot' forward with a more convincing  'proof of concept', don't expect to be invited for the seed round.    

Remembering D D Kosambi: In conversation with Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy

Visiting Professor, Department of Chemistry, IIT-Delhi
Author of D.D. Kosambi: Selected Works in Mathematics and Statistics

More about him at

In the Homi Jehangir Bhabha (HJB) vs D D Kosambi (DDK) tussle, a supremely talented, definitively democratic and readily disagreeable personality was terminally
sidelined, and our elitist nuclear ambition caused a solar eclipse
that has cost us dear. Do you agree?

At the time when DDK and HJB were disagreeing about energy sources
(around 1958-1960), harvesting solar energy was not simple. Silicon
technology was many years into the future. All known routes involved
rare elements like Ruthenium. As an idea, solar was great, but it was
not practical. What we see today is that DDK's instinct was right, but
it was much more important for HJB to set up the Department of Atomic
Energy, etc. DDK's disagreeableness was only part of the story.

How did the idea of presenting and elucidating DDK's mathematical
treasure trove to people at large germinate in your mind? Did
mathematics lead you to DDK or was it the other way round? 

As I mentioned in the book, the original push came from Prof. Romila
Thapar who only knew of DDK's contributions to History. I had heard of
him first as a student in IIT Kanpur around 1973, and at TIFR where I
spent a few years, mainly in the context of mathematics. One thing led
to another, and I decided to at least collect his maths and look at
how he moved from one area to the other.

Twenty four papers each with a commentary and key technical review
extracts - the structure is God sent for someone who wishes to put
Kosambi in perspective in optimal time. 

The total number of maths papers of DDK is about 70 (give or take). I
also realized that most people would not be interested in all the
maths papers, just the ones that had a historical or mathematical
significance. Once I decided that, the choices were mainly clear. The
first paper. The Bourbaki paper. The paper that started the
numismatics. The Kosambi distance. The paper with Cartan. The
orthogonal decomposition. The Riemann paper, etc.

I must inevitably turn to DDK's controversial approach to the
Riemann hypothesis. Notwithstanding the embarrassment rooted in what
most term as a monumental blunder, I learn that he had made it amply
clear that his work based on Tauberian theorems was only a conditional
proof ("if the primes in suitably defined covering intervals behave
like an unbiased random sample, then the Riemann hypothesis follows")

"Amply" is overstating the case. No self-respecting mathematician
would have published these papers. If you discover that if A is true,
then B would be true, but you cannot prove A is true, then you really
are left nowhere. It would have been more mature to say something like
"Ah, I have discovered that B would follow if the following statement
A is true, but I have no way of proving A, unfortunately ..." If you
read my essay "A Scholar in his time" you will see that a posthumous
review of this work says that effectively Kosambi replaced the Riemann
Hypothesis by an even more involved hypothesis that the reviewer
proposed to call the Kosambi Hypothesis. DDK himself (in his essay
Adventure into the Unknown) tries to make it out that he was "a
maverick who could not fit into the scheme of things" but the argument
does not fly.

Continuing the same thread, while Kosambi’s 'Agricultural sciences'
prank does seem bizarre, could it be that his detractors pounced on
the opportunity to defame DDK, also burying the prospective worth of
his paper, and the possibilities inherent in it.

I don't call it a prank. No serious mathematician does that,
especially not one who has position at TIFR.

I would also love to know your thoughts on his practice-driven work
– for instance the Proper Orthogonal Decomposition analysis and the
study of seasonal death rates that advocated proactive anti-typhoid
work to avert an epidemic. I am sure he would have done something
about  the corona scare as well, had he been in our midst.

I'm sure that he would be out there collecting data, and the fact that
Pune is a major centre would probably enthuse him no end! He was an
intensely practical man, but his interests were many and time was at a
premium. So he flitted into many areas and did not complete his work
or follow it up in many cases.   It is clear, for instance, that he
constructed the Kosmagraph at St Xavier College, but nobody else has
written about it so we have no other validation. Both his books have
been lost, one of them in 1946 and one in 1966. No copies were kept?
Why? All this makes for a very confusing image of a very intelligent
person who could not keep a sustained interest in most things.

How would you summarize DDK's work concerning "Law of large
numbers"? I am keen to know about your thoughts given the applications
of this intuitive law in AI.

The LLN paper is an expository paper in Mathematics Student in which
he basically explains this law (as a way of understanding it himself,
no doubt). There is little that is original in the paper, except
perhaps the presentation.

I believe you have consulted C D Deshmukh’s book for biographical
information (indeed a delightfully detached account of Kosambi’s life
and work) Hope the translation has done justice to the original.

I don't read Marathi, so I wouldn't know how the translation works! I
got a fair amount of information from Meera Kosambi also.

"Oh, I was not aware!"

Those who love to plead ignorance...
with staple expressions of shock and surprise
and the standard submission "Oh, I was not aware!"

are visibly happy in the cocoon of their pretence
relishing the litany of fake acts, one after another ...
of dramatic disbelief and theatrical sighs
at developments they follow by the minute

Little do the poor souls know
their perturbed faces tell the real story
with resounding force
and compounding effect

That mounting age helps us look beyond
is only a fabled myth
It only ferments our desperation
and immortalizes old habits
which never die, hard or otherwise.